My son calls him, “the real action man.” A friend, a true-blue capitalist from Binondo, beams on hearing the name Neri Colmenares.

Neri Colmenares (#11) is the first and only one of two names on my Senate list.

The man lawyers call “Comrade Amparing” has given honor to the term “activist”.

He paid his dues as a teenager – arrested, tortured, jailed.

He has never acted like he’s owed for the sacrifice.

After years as a human rights lawyer and three terms as Bayan Muna representative in Congress, Neri continues to invest his soul and root his politics in the “karaniwang tao.”

The people’s lawyer became the people’s fighter in the House of Representatives, bastion of traditional politicians. He authored 11 laws, including these:

  • Amending the Rent Control Act by prohibiting excessive rent for low income groups;
  • the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) law, increasing the salaries of PAO lawyers;
  • the law requiring disaster warnings through text; and
  • the law creating Special Election Precincts for persons with disabilities and senior citizens.

These are laws that affect the lives of millions of Filipinos in ways that truly matter.

He authored several human rights laws including the law compensating human rights victims during Martial Law, the Anti-Torture Law and the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Law.

His bill for a P2,000 pension hike for Social Security System members sailed through the House of Representatives. Senators gave him the highest display of respect by adopting his bill en toto and passing it swiftly.

He aims for the elimination of VAT on electricity, water and fuel; the prohibition of privatization of public hospitals and public health services; the increase in income tax exemptions; the Freedom of Information Law.

He’s also the main author of the bill, Magna Carta of Airline Passengers Rights, to protect passengers from abusive airline companies. You and I know how important this is.


It’s easy to see why Neri has worked so well in the House of Representatives.

Soft-spoken, polite to all, with a comic bent, he is ferocious when attacking abuse and persuasive in advocating his causes.

Colleagues across party lines stress his diligence, sharpness and his skill in building consensus where it can be forged.

His labors extend beyond the doors of Congress, all the way to the Supreme Court where he won a decision stopping Meralco and other electric companies from imposing excessive electricity rates in Metro Manila and other provinces.

He was also petitioner in the Supreme Court cases which declared DAP and PDAF pork barrel unconstitutional and in the P10 Billion overcharging and refund case against Globe and Smart telecoms. He has argued before the Supreme Court several times in various petitions defending human rights and the public against excessive rates for public service — including unjust MRT-LRT rate increases.

He argued before the US District Court in Hawaii for the compensation of human rights victims on the Marcos human rights case. He is the President of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) a national association of human rights lawyers and a Bureau Member of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers based in New York and Belgium.

Oh, Neri is one of a handful of candidates who openly espouse divorce. He’s for the anti-discrimination bill that gives justice and dignity to LGBT’s in this country.

Lourd de Veyra says: He’s solid.

Neri’s more than solid. In a field full of dross, he’s golden.

Plus, how many senators can sing Buchiki and What a Wonderful World and give these equal meaning?



Hey, Bongbong, here’s a dictionary

Just in case all the partying during your dad’s glorious reign sidelined basic vocabulary lessons, here’s the Merriam-Webster definition of “gain”:

So let’s talk about “value” or what we hold dear.

Life is at the top of the pyramid, dude. Cavalier would be a kind adjective for your dad’s attitude towards the basic right to life. At last count, more than 75,000 have filed for compensation for human rights abuses under daddy dearest.

True, they’re still killing, torturing and arresting activists and journalists. Not that you’d be weeping tears for them.

But AFTER Edsa, the courts at least offered some chance of redress.

Under the Marcos dictatorship, everything was hostage to the whims of your father’s henchmen, including that fossil who owes his freedom – in the face of plunder raps – to the Supreme Court.

Your father’s regime cut short the lives of some of the country’s best and brightest. You’re alive and hale enough to pollute the air with your lies. Allowing even idiots their right to life is a real gain, don’t you think?

Had those guys with the same dictatorial bent succeeded in their putscht, you and yours would be buried in some deep pit.

Also, unless you think “Constitution” is a synonym for toilet paper, we do have a chance now to challenge autocrats who abuse power.

That right, which we wrested back from your dad’s stranglehold, led to landmark decisions on the pork barrel. Perhaps that’s a gain wasted on the son of a kleptocrat, who propped up his regime by borrowing gazillions to keep his minions happy.

bongbong2You don’t think people care about what happened under two decades of tyranny? And your empirical evidence is the dearth of people asking you questions about martial law and human rights violations?

It never occurred that people don’t bother asking you because of all the news reports detailing your memories of some warped wonderland?

Yes, news. We’re even printing your pratling. You’re allowed to peddle your fantasy. Of course, we’re also allowed to shoot down your lame fiction. I can see why you don’t count this as a “gain.”

“Gain” also includes the breakup of the monopolies your dad showered on his pals.

joel abong2
Joel Abong, the boy who became the poster child of famine in Philippines’ Sugarlandia — on

Go check out what the thousands of agricultural workers in Sugarlandia think of your dad and his cronies — not that opposition landowners were any better. Their children are still poor but no longer look like starving, sub-Saharan waifs.

Read what UcanNews reported way back in 1985:

In a pastoral letter draft in July, Philippine bishops said the famine “raised the spectre of a generation of brain-damaged children” …

Severe third-degree malnutrition among Negros children reached 7-8 percent, according to a UNICEF survey in July. This doubled the 1984 rate.

UNICEF officials told UCA News some countries declare 3 percent an emergency.

Doctor Violeta Gonzaga of La Salle College in Bacolod City says the third-degree malnutrition rate was 10 percent or more in August.”

There have been gains for the sugar workers — no thanks to the old-style oligarchy and the new-style kleptocracy. Those gains weren’t gifts from anyone but the fruits of their struggle.

You think life under Ferdinand Sr. was so flush?

The Businessworld points out:

“The average GDP growth rate from 1972 to 1985 (Marcos’s last full year) was all of 3.4% per annum. Per-capita GDP grew annually at less than 1% average over the period — more precisely 0.82%… For comparison, the average GDP growth from 2003 to 2014 — even under a bumbling and quarrelsome democracy — has been 5.4% per annum — with a rising trend. On a per capita basis, GDP today is rising 3.5% annually, more than four times the growth rate under the dictatorship.”

It’s laughable when you lament the lack of jobs that force people to brave foreign shores. The dearth in employment that pays enough for a decent life is true. But dude, the diaspora was launched and encouraged by your dad to mask rising unemployment and bring in foreign reserves needed to pay for the debts he racked up – to keep the party going.


You think all young Filipinos are so guillible? Let’s see what happens in May.

I may not think much of those seeking to lead the nation. But you talk like gains are on the account of a few leaders. In fact, gains have been won despite leaders. And young people know this.

Duh. This country owes you and your family  nothing for nothing.

The Philippines isn’t beyond saving. It can be made better. It will be made better. You and yours  are the last thing we need.


SUFFER THE CHILDREN: Sons who have not learned

THERE WAS A CHILD … who cowered as soldiers came for her father. THERE WAS A FATHER, taken away and returned home broken, battered.

There was this not-so-distant time we lived in, grew up in. That is why we say ‪#‎NeverForget and ‪#‎NeverAgain.

A time that is a blot on our history, a national shame, a stain on the nation’s soul. A blot that spread because many of us shrugged when we saw strangers dragged from their homes, dumped on the streets, in ditches, on a sugarcane field. A blot that spread and spread and spread as we looked away. A blot that one day breached our illusions of safety.

There was that time.

And there is today.

Slide1A CHILD WHO COULD NOT SAVE HIS FATHER and brothers and cousins — also children — when the soldiers came.

A daughter who could not save her father, a sister who wishes she could have borne a sibling’s burden of grief and trauma.

Michelle Campos, daughter of slain lumad leader, Dionel Campos. Photo by inday espina-varona
Michelle Campos, daughter of slain lumad leader, Dionel Campos. Photo by inday espina-varona

Children, thousands of them in 95 schools, forced to flee because soldiers demand the only education allowed is that which parrots their message.

Fathers, again many fathers, taken away, returned home battered, broken and sometimes dead.

A father who sang and farmed and danced with his children.

A father whose biological offspring shared him with other children.

A father who stepped in when disputes flared in the community. apad-011415A father whose child weeps even as he bids a hunted man to take to the open fields and roam free, strong and brave  — on land their ancestors called home.

There was that time.

And there is today.

And there are two sons who mouth platitudes about their fathers and betray what they have not learned.

And there are those of us who still remain silent and provide excuses for those who killed — and kill. There are those who try to hide the red blot that spread — and spreads… and spreads… and spreads.

Sheina Campos, 13, keeping insects off the body of her slain father, Dionel, a lumad leader of Lianga, Surigao del Sur. Photograb from Kilab multimedia production,
Sheina Campos, 13, keeping insects off the body of her slain father, Dionel, a lumad leader of Lianga, Surigao del Sur. Photograb from Kilab multimedia production, “Tum-od”

pcpr panay


Senator Grace Poe has always insisted she has documents to prove she is a Filipino citizen qualified for the Presidency and, of course, the position she now occupies. However, she says those documents will be unveiled only in the proper forum, presumably, a court or quasi-judicial body, when she is asked to respond to a legal challenge.

Susan Roces and Grace Poe -- a screen grab from a 2013 campaign video on the senator's Facebook page
Susan Roces and Grace Poe — a screen grab from a 2013 campaign video on the senator’s Facebook page

Lito David, filed the first attempt to disqualify Poe, as a senator. The senatorial candidate of the Kapatiran party in 2013 was turned away, however, by The Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) because he did not pay the P50,000 filing fee.

Whatever one may think of Poe’s readiness to lead the nation, hammering on her foundling status could just fan sympathy for the daughter of the late action superstar Fernando Poe Jr. and actress Susan Roces.

A Father's Day post by the senator, from her Facebook page
A Father’s Day post by the senator, from her Facebook page

The senator frames her replies to include all other foundlings in this country.

“Gusto nilang apihin ang aking estado, pero kung ako’y bumigay, sino’ng mawawalan ng karapatan dito? Hindi ba ang ibang mga bata na hindi rin matukoy ang mga magulang? At sino ang mamamayagpag dito, ang mga taong luma ang estilo ng pulitika? Sila ba ang papayagan nating mamuno pagkatapos ng administrasyon na ito?” 

(They want to disparage my status, but if I give up, who will lose rights here? Won’t it be other children who also don’t know who their parents are? And who will win, people with old styles in politics? Will we allow them to lead the country after this administration?)

President Manuel Roxas
President Manuel Roxas

And now, in a Q&A (in Tagalog) emailed to journalists, she quotes no less than Mar Roxas’ lolo to bolster her claim as a natural-born Filipino.

Nasa International Law ang pagpapalagay na ito. Maging si Pangulong Manuel Roxas, ang lolo ni Mar Roxas, ay kumilala sa pagpapalagay na ito sa 1935 Constitutional Convention. Delegado si Pangulong Roxas sa nasabing Constitutional Convention. Pinanindigan niya ang pagpapalagay na ito nang ipinahayag niya sa deliberasyon ng kumbensyon ang sumusunod tungkol sa Philippine Citizenship:

“Kinikilala sa international law ang prinsipyong ang mga bata o taong hindi kilala ang mga magulang na ipinanganak sa isang bansa ay mamamayan ng nasabing bansa, at hindi kinakailangan pang magsama ng isang probisyon sa nasabing usapin.”

(The basis can be found in international law. Former President Manuel Roxas, grandfather of (Liberal Party 2016 standard-bearer) Mar Roxas, recognized this during the 1935 Constitutional Convention, where he was a delegate. This is what he said: International law upholds the principle that children or persons who do not know their parents are citizens of the country where they were born and there is no need for a specific provision to recognize this.)

She also cites another 1935 Con-con delegate who brought up Spain’s ruling conferring citizenship on children born in Spanish territories with unknown parentage. The delegate then said this also applies to the Philippines.

The child, Grace Poe, with mother Susan Roces
The child, Grace Poe, with mother Susan Roces

Poe, of course, posits all these on her being born in Philippine soil. Critics say this cannot be proven. They note that the original tale that she was found, still covered with birth matter, on the steps of a church in Iloilo, has been debunked. (READ Gigi Grande’s series on Poe the foundling.)

But even if the drama is stripped off that tale, it is highly unlikely that in those times, a mother would have given birth abroad and then flown back to the country to leave her baby in a church. Travel then was more difficult that what we take for granted now; even an alta sociedad woman, especially one who’d just given birth, would have been hard-pressed to make the proper arrangements.

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares also told abs-cbn reporter RG Cruz that the foundling issue is bad strategy for critics.

“Sinasabi mo foundlings have the burden to prove citizenship. ‘Di dapat ganun ang treatment. Anyone who questions citizenship, siya dapat ang mag-prove. Parang dini-discriminate ang foundlings, ‘di magandang political issue [laban] kay Senator Poe.”

More dangerous for the senator is the charge that she had renounced her citizenship and reclaimed it too late for residency requirements.

There is no doubt that Filipinos who become citizens of other states can re-acquire their citizenship. Some countries allow for dual citizenship. Some will force a choice.

11800304_1004869546210926_5108868291687819720_nPoe (or her legal counsels) obviously thinks repatriation conferred back her status as a natural-born Filipino. The senator claims taking the citizenship oath is not necessary to establishing natural-born status – because she never lost it in the first place.

“Mismong ang batas ang nagsasaad na ang nasabing panunumpa ay hindi isang aksiyong katumbas ng pagbubuo ng pagkamamamayang Filipino. Walang pagkamamamayang Filipino na kailangang makamit o mabuo dahil hindi naman nawala kailanman ang kanyang pagiging natural born na mamamayang Filipino.

Nagpasya na ang Korte Suprema na mayroon lamang dalawang uri ng mga mamamayang Filipino: iyong mga natural-born, at iyong mga naturalisado. Kung ang isang tao ay Filipino subalit hindi naturalisado, siya ay natural-born.

      Hindi kailanman naging naturalisadong Filipino si Grace Poe. Kung gayon, natural-born siya. Ang akto ng repatriasyon ay hindi naturalisasyon. Hindi siya sumailalim ng anumang naturalisasyon dahil sa bisa ng mga probisyon ng batas, ipinagpapalagay na hindi kailanman nawala ang pagiging natural-born niyang mamamayan.

Those last statements will definitely attract lightning bolts. Though it is true that the citizenship issue is for the court to decide.

There is another twist to this general topic, however, and one more likely to cause social media flare-ups between opposing sides even without dragging in 2016 preferences.

As socio-political analyst Antonio Contreras writes on the issue of Filipinos becoming citizens of other lands: “I AM A FILIPINO. YOU ARE NOT.”

That’s what we’ll discuss next time.

Pope Francis and the Song of Apad

“Namulat sya sa kandungan ng mahihirap at sunog sa araw na mga magulang… Kaya malinaw nyang naintindihan at naranasan ang hagupit at dahas ng kahirapan… habang lumaki, kanyang nasasaksihan ang pagwasak sa ninunong lupa at kalikasan.”

“Parang kalayulayo ng pagkaiba ng salitang katutubo at aktibista, ngunit ang panlulupig, pangangamkam at pangalipusta ang sing bagsik ng bagyong nagtulak sa kanya upang sumanib sa kilusang layong ay lumaya.”

(He woke up to the world, in the embrace of poor, sunburnt parents. He learned to understand the cruelty and lash of poverty and, as he grew, saw the destruction of his ancestors’ lands. There is a vast difference between the word lumad and activist, but oppression and thievery, plunder and humiliation were storm winds that drove him to the movement of people who seek to be free.)

The middle class audience stirred at the start of this poetry of rage, discomfort clear as they listened to the slight, 12-year-old boy. But as Apad Enriquez went on, kerchiefs came out to wipe eyes filled with tears.

This was a child, talking about blood spilled on the land of his people, the Manobo of Surigao del Sur. This was a child who cried himself to sleep at night, wondering whether his father would be given one more night of freedom or be caught in the enemy’s trap.

This was a boy, the same age as their own children, who had just made a 300-km trek from the mountains of his hometown to the national capital.

“My boy complains that he lacks ‘load’ for his cellphone,” said Tess, a banker. “Apad talks of schools burnt and bullets raining on their homes.”

apad-011415Despite regular disruptions to his schooling, the son of wanted indigenous leader Genasque Enriquez chatted easily about math and science (the stars and planets and the universe) to his new friends in Manila. He and his cousin, Ben, and 14-year-old Angeline also got praise for their flawless English and Filipino.

They thanked teacher Anabelle Campos, with them on their Lakbayan, for her dedication.

Work exacts a tough price from Campos, who was also schooled in alternative learning centers managed by faith groups.

Manobo women at the funeral rites for New People's Army commander, Leoncio Pitao.
Manobo women at the funeral rites for New People’s Army commander, Leoncio Pitao.

Campos has been threatened with arrest. Whenever forced to evacuate to the town center, she faces a barrage of taunts: “There goes the teacher of the children of the NPA.”

The communist New People’s Army is strong in the hinterlands of Mindanao, as it is in the country’s poorest provinces. Other rebel groups, including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), traditionally find recruits amid a vacuum in governance and the struggle over land and natural resources.

Children ask, ‘Why?’

Despite the poverty of their lumad community, Campos and children managed to keep tabs on Pope Francis’ January visit to the Philippines.

In havens for children of militarized communities, rooms fell silent as the Pope embrace Glyzelle Palomara, a former street waif, who broke down asking why God allows children to suffer.

Campos’ Manobo wards come from a different milieu but they, too, struggle with emotional scars from early exposure to violence.

Ben’s brother was tortured.

One of the children had braved interrogation by armed men on the hunt for his neighbor.

A few minutes after Angeline wowed her Manila audience with a lyrical Filipino poem, she learned that parents and siblings had fled their village for the nth time. She would be going home to an evacuation center.

Apad laughed when asked why he was on the streets, not in school.

“Bakit doon, bakwit dito, walang katapusan” he replied. (There is no end to our flight.)

Like Gizelle, like the indigenous people of South America forced into subjugation by colonizers, the children of the Manobo wake up asking, “Why?”

Why does death haunt their people? Why do strangers want their land?

Why do fathers have to leave and mothers have to weep when husbands and children are brought home bloodied?

Why do their calls for help, for justice go unheard?

Pope urges action

Mother and child at the Guindulungan Evacuation centre. Photo courtesy of Marian Ching
Mother and child at the Guindulungan Evacuation centre. Photo courtesy of Marian Ching

Nardy Sabino of the Promotion for Church People’s Rights (PCPR) says that in Bolivia, Pope Francis spoke to all the world’s indigenous peoples.

The Pope, he says, did not just call for a stop to injustice. He actually asked Catholics – and anyone who cares to listen – to actively work for change.

The Pope, he adds, was emphasized the need for a “preferential, evangelical option for the poor”.

The world’s first Latin American Pope traced his call for Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Sabino asks, “Will the faithful follow Pope Francis?”

Marian Ching, a young development activist who has worked with lumad and Muslims, says Filipino IPs need Pope Francis.

“Reading Pope Francis’ support for indigenous peoples in his second encyclical, where he says ‘for indigenous communities, land is not a commodity, but a gift from God, a sacred space,’ meant a lot to me given my work here in Mindanao, where indigenous peoples are among ‘the lowly, the exploited, the poor and underprivileged’ and constantly subjected to human rights violations as they struggle for land and their rights. “

Taking testimony of 'bakwit', people forced to leave their homes due to conflict, in Sultan Kudarat. Photo courtesy of Marian Ching
Taking testimony of ‘bakwit’, people forced to leave their homes due to conflict, in Sultan Kudarat. Photo courtesy of Marian Ching

It is important to heed the Pope’s call to recognize those of the faith who dedicate their lives to the people’s struggles, “often standing alongside the native peoples or accompanying their popular movements,” says Ching.

She cites the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Marbel that has “tirelessly supported the B’laan’s fight for land and rights in Tampakan, South Cotabato.”

That struggle against foreign corporation Glencore and its local allies has led to the murders of at least ten indigenous leaders in the area.

Ching also credits church leaders who “voice “their support for the peace process, which hopes to address injustices committed against our Bangsamoro brothers and sisters, who may also be considered a minority population in our country.”

Tradition of service

Clemente Bautista, the national coordinator of environmental group Karapatan has another question. “With the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) take up Pope Francis’ challenge?”

Philippine IPs face a crisis, say Bautina, Sabino and Ching.

Photo of Manobo elder courtesy at funeral honours for Leoncio Pitao of the New People's Army courtesy of Obet de Castro
Photo of Manobo elder courtesy at funeral honours for Leoncio Pitao of the New People’s Army courtesy of Obet de Castro

Karapatan reports that more than 30 of the 48 environmentalists killed in the last six years are indigenous leaders. The trail of killings sprawls from northern Luzon and Palawan and to the provinces of Mindanao.

In Northern Mindanao alone, 23 IP leaders have died since October 2014, according to the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines. That’s three IP leaders every month. In most cases, the suspects are big corporations or political clans out to wrest IP land.

Sabino believes Pope Francis will galvanize religious of all faiths and the laity.

The Pope apologized in Bolivia for the Catholic Church’s role in the subjugation of indigenous people’s. But he also took pride in clergy who risked their lives to serve oppressed communities.

“We cannot believe in God the Father without seeing a brother or sister in every person, and we cannot follow Jesus without giving our lives for those for whom he died on the cross,” Pope Francis said.

Photo by Obet de Ca
Photo by Obet de Ca

The Philippine churches have a rich tradition of serving the rural poor. Priests, nuns and lay leaders in basic Christian communities have all fallen to death squads while campaigning against human rights violations and other abuses.

“When we give succor to communities, we do not ask if people are Catholics,” says Spanish Claretian missionary Angel Calvo, who has spent decades in the island-province of Basilan.

Thirty years ago, Bacolod Bishop Antonio Fortich thundered at military officials who accused his priests of feeding communist rebels.

“A hungry stomach knows no color,” said the prelate who braved threats, and even a grenade attack on his residence, and succeeded in convincing the more conservative Pope John Paul II to confront the Marcos dictatorship on the issue of human rights.

Listening with his soul

The religious continue to serve and they continue to minister under grave threats in Mindanao. No less than the Philippine Secretary of Social Work, Corazon Soliman, has attacked their work with the IPs.

Seeing lumad children among a crowd protesting militarization in Talaingod, Davao Oriental, Soliman accused the church groups of violating children’s rights.

Piya Macliing Malayao, secretary general of the indigenous alliance KATRIBU), said the official was trying to gloss over the government’s responsibility for lumad children’s plight.

“The children were at the rally because they had lost their schools,” Malayao pointed out.

Pope Francis, a hugger to all comers, is very much a people’s prelate, eschewing abstractions for messages that reflect on people’s daily lives.

Campos earlier said the Pope seems to have the ability to listen “at the level of soul.”

In Bolivia, he spoke of names and faces, of hearts breaking because of sorrow and pain. Praising community organizers and those to live with indigenous people, the Pope stressed the difference between “abstract theorizing” and the empathy borne of seeing and hearing the pain of others and absorbing this as one’s own.

“That emotion which turns into community action is not something which can be understood by reason alone,” said the Pope. “It has a surplus of meaning which only peoples understand, and it gives a special feel to genuine popular movements.”

He could have been talking of Apad of the Manobo and other youth of other tribes and ethnic groups across the country.

Apad may never get the chance to meet this Pope. But in his pain-wracked nights, this young man can take comfort knowing that Francis believes in what little people can do.

This is a Pope who hears Apad’s song and understands that his people need to fight for their land – or die as slaves.

Not just campaign goodies: Source of Binay personal funds a puzzle

Slide1Take away alleged dummy accounts. Take away alleged payments to Canadian market research firms in 2013 and 2014. Take away the excess campaign contributions.

Ranged against his Statements of Assets and Liabilities and Networth (SALNs), Vice-President Jejomar Binay’s bank deposits and withdrawals, listed in the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) report that formed the basis of the May 11 Court of Appeals freeze order, raise awkward questions.

The SALNs from 2006 to 2013, from his days as mayor of the country’s financial district to his current post as the country’s second highest official, Binay and his wife Elenita, disclosed their cash assets:

Binay Cash Assets
2006      3,293,307.97
2007      1,511,766.49
2008      1,325,195.58

2009         806,000.00

2010     17,000,000.00
2011     21,339,723.79
2012     22,579,259.00
2013 28,783,088.00

Continue reading

DADDY & Daddies

Rolando Lopez Espina: The man who gave us the gifts that last forever -- music, books, writing and the thirst for knowledge.
Rolando Lopez Espina: The man who gave us the gifts that last forever — music, books, writing and the thirst for knowledge.

A-E-I-O-U …

Sleep, my darling baby…

Ili-ili, tulog anay…

Abadabadabada says the monkey to the chimp…

Before any of us 11 siblings could see, music had seeped into our souls.

A two-pack a day smoking habit had dropped Dad’s old tenor-soloist tones into a baritone drawl, but it remained full of melody and emotion. Funny, that — only in song could he let go of his gentler side. His speech was – still is — usually formal, sometimes acerbic, sometimes scathing or sarcastic.

All of us heard the croon before we saw the light. All of us heard the words, spoken softly, before we learned to read: Of angels and heroes and knights and big, bad wolves.

Rolando Lopez Espina, a journalist, is now semi-retired and devoting his days to columns for a number of local Bacolod dailies. He was at the prime of his career when Martial Law yanked the rug from under the Philippine press.

By then, he and Nanay had moved back from Manila, where the older kids were born, to Bacolod City. To serve their people, they said. To give back to their province, that beloved, exasperating Sugarlandia.

Always a crush

It always ends with the Lord's Prayer and includes the hungry, the sick and the dying, those suffering from conflict and injustice and their oppressors, and even those thinking of committing crimes.
It always ends with the Lord’s Prayer and includes the hungry, the sick and the dying, those suffering from conflict and injustice and their oppressors, and even those thinking of committing crimes.

Dad was a very busy man. He was executive assistant of then governor Alfredo Montelibano, Jr. Like all assistants of charismatic men who have no heart for details, everything fell on his lap. Everything, that is, short of elite political squabbles, which he never had a heart for. (Heck, he returned the balance of campaign money of then VP Lopez and Ferdinand Marcos, back in the days when they were cosy.)

Most of us siblings never enjoyed the luxury of lolling around the house in lingerie or jammies. The moment we stepped outside our rooms, we had to be ready to face the parade of people who dropped by daily.

Dad played host to a motley group – hacenderos, encargados, striking union workers; Philippine Constabulary officials and criminals (we have lovely stories about them and their offers to “help” with problems LOL). There were local government officials and their subordinates… not to mention his colleagues in the media (whatever was left), civic organizations and an array of religious groups.

Dad and Nanay were stalwarts of the Christian Family Movement and, later, the Neo-Catechumenate Movement – a Catholic group approved by the Pope and one that sought to give life to the old, more egalitarian Christian communities.

Dad’s mealtime prayers are the stuff of legend and have caused breakouts of laughter. I suppose that’s what prayer should be like. He’ll include not just the hungry, but the sick and the dying, the lovelorn, those suffering amid conflict and injustice, those who cannot forgive, those who waste their talents, even those thinking of committing crimes and the suicidal. The first time he mentioned the last one, we sneaked looks at each other, wondering if he knew something we didn’t. Nah, the journalist was just infusing his prayers with the day’s headlines… and prayers for the desperate remain to this day.

They had a caboodle of kids. Yet they kept taking more on. I do not remember any year without cousins and relatives living with us.

The Music Was Our Mirror

Singing and dancing for the Diamond Dad
Singing and dancing for the Diamond Dad

Our family friends all had big families and our parents encouraged all kinds of creative activities, concerts and stage shows among these.

Not that Dad’s children ever needed much encouragement.

Music was as familiar to us as spoken speech. What we couldn’t say, we sang – how very much like Dad.

We rattled around town, first in an old, ugly Corona, then Econovan and later in a Harabas and Torana with windows open, yodeling our way through the entire Sound of Music soundtrack.

We had a household of books… a mezzanine library with floor to ceiling shelves wasn’t enough. The dining room, the living room and every bedroom were full of books that switched locations, depending on family members’ whims.

We all learned to read very early, thanks to Dad and Nanay, who always made time despite their busy schedules to share fairy tales and Philippine legends. We loved our mock screams every time Dad dug into the story of Teniento Gimo of Guimbal, in Iloilo.

But till today, what we really remember are the musical fairy tales of Danny Kaye. Even Dad’s great grandchildren can warble, “Once upon a time, there was a little girl, who was very, very pretty, and very, very good. Once upon a time there was a little girl. Everyone called her, Little Red Riding Hood. Her hood was red and her eyes so blue. Blu—ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh.”

A Better Man for Her

Nanay made him "a better man"
Nanay made him “a better man”

Like traditional families of yore, we all pretended Dad was Boss. We all knew, of course, that gentle, soft-spoken Nanay was really it.

She could tame that whiplash tongue; make him swallow his pride – aaaah, our waterloo, all of us!

Dad always liked to say that Nanay made him a better man. He never heard any of us argue. Nor any of Nanay’s relatives who always thought she deserved better than a journalist who had more pedigree than money, haha.

Dad was – is – very much a flawed Christian. The Neocatechumenates carry the cross. Pride and anger and impatience are his crosses to bear.

And yet, he was always a devoted dad, a hands-on dad where events and milestones were concerned, who searched for affordable weekend jaunts for his huge gang of little hoodlums. And he presided over a dinner table where nothing was beyond discussion.

Dad and Nanay like being challenged, being asked to prove their statements. And they did this by combining theory and theology with real-life stories, which their jobs offered plenty– Nanay being the head pediatrician of a big, public hospital at the time of Batang Negros.

I don’t remember Dad defending martial law, though Nanay was always the more socially progressive half of the couple.

As his children became increasingly loud protesters of a dictatorship, he listened, nodded, tried to explain the compromises that local officials had to make, the need to make the most of a bad situation. He never apologized for the excesses of the Marcos years.

Once or twice, we saw him dress down PC officials for abuses. For some reason, nobody took this against him, maybe because he tried his best to supply their other needs – or maybe because Nanay was their children’s doctor and treated them for free as she treated dozens of children of rebels for free.

Compassion, Not Fire Nor Brimstone

With son, Nonoy Espina, also a journalist, protesting in defense of press freedom.
With son, Nonoy Espina, also a journalist, protesting in defense of press freedom.

The idealism for free expression we got from Dad. The zest for social action we got from Nanay. Every screw up we’ve done is on us, not on them.

That they were Katoliko Sarado was clear. But their compassion and preference for compassion over fire and brimstone are what our friends will always remember. Their maxim has always been – we teach what we believe, but our love knows no boundaries.

When I started my rebellion, Dad managed to track me down – in an underground house, no less! We had to decamp ASAP after that since it was pretty clear he got his info from his intel friends.

He threatened to cut me off – though he never raised his voice through all that. And then he went directly to Tito Von, a favorite bachelor uncle and our guardian in UP, and gave him money to keep for my desperate days. “I know you will help her so here’s some for that. Just don’t tell her it came from me.”

He was Mr. Status Quo, give and take a few nudges leftward. So when, at past 60, he stepped up to speak at our rallies, we kids – and most Bacolod journalists are his adopted kids — thought it a milestone.

The Other Daddy

When I lost my husband, the father of my children, Dad stepped in when he could. That is why Commie was such a little man at a young age, why he loves perfume, and why he has a collection of enough shoes to start an emporium.

Photo by Julius Mariveles
Photo by Julius MarivelesEven Dad’s singing could not gift Commie with a musical voice. But he did pass on an appreciation and love for music that his grandson passed on to Sophie and Vitto and Sam.Even Dad’s singing could not gift Commie with a musical voice. But he did pass on an appreciation and love for music that his grandson passed on to Sophie and Vitto and Sam.

Even Dad’s singing could not gift Commie with a musical voice. But he did pass on an appreciation and love for music that his grandson gave to Sophie and Vitto and Sam.

Commie also imbibed his love for children, the tolerance for rambunctious, sweaty fun; the penchant for seeing where kids will run with a discussion; the preference for firm reprimands rather than corporal punishment… oh, yeah, and my son also, sometimes unfortunately, inherited that streak of sarcasm and sharpness of tongue.

I can count on few moments that bring more joy than seeing Dad’s face light up as Sophie and Vitto start teasing his coughing – emphysema though he has stopped smoking, his manner of walking (Parkinson’s).

Then and now, the best moments come courtesy of singing. For some reason, Dad’s cough never gets in the way when we cede the spotlight on “Edelweiss” or “Too Young”.

Dad and Sophie, oldest great grandchild.
Dad and Sophie, oldest great grandchild.

When I see the kiddos with cocked heads and bright eyes, and hear them teach Dad their new songs, the soul sends off a quiet prayer of thanks.

Twilight And Legacy

Dad’s 80. Every year counts. The loss will come one day and it will be tempered with joy at the knowledge of his reunion with “Nene”.

For now, thanksgiving and making every moment of togetherness count.

Commie: Dad as playmate
Commie: Dad as playmate

I’ll tell you Dad’s greatest legacy. His sons are wonderful fathers, if sometimes prickly husbands. So, too, his grandsons, Commie, Julio and Gianca – who dotes on his niece like he were dad. And his nephew, Tito Franz, who steps in to command the household when our sisters are away.

Julio and Ava
Julio and AvaThe rest of his daughters, who will always make him the standard of fidelity, will make sure the other grandkids do him proud.

The rest of his daughters, who will always make him the standard of fidelity, will make sure the other grandkids do him proud.

Happy Dad’s Day, Dad and Commie.